The Power of Family Life

Saint Joseph and the child Jesus

We celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary this month on March 19. From the Scriptures, we know very little about him. What was written can be pieced together to give some sense of who he was and what he might have been like.

He was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and a member of the working class poor. We know this, since when Jesus was circumcised in the Temple he offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice, which was acceptable in those days for those who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb (Luke 2:24). He did, however, descend from royalty, the “House of David,” who was King of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).

Yet Joseph was humble and compassionate. He protected Mary from being accused of adultery and stoned to death, because she was pregnant and unmarried. Instead of revealing her pregnancy, he planned to send her away, but then he listened to the angel in a dream who told him of God’s plan that Jesus should be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-25). Knowing this, he married Mary and became a father to Jesus.

Throughout his life, Joseph protected and cared for his family. When an angel told Joseph that Jesus was in danger of the King, he left everything he had, including family and friends, and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, until it was safe to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23). He, along with Mary, looked for Jesus for three days, until they found him in the Temple (Luke 2:48). And to all who knew the Holy Family, Joseph treated Jesus as his own son, for Jesus is referred to in the Scriptures many times by the people, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22)

We know that Joseph was not at Jesus’ crucifixion. Many historians and theologians believe that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry, and the apocryphal gospels place the dates for Joseph’s birth and death as 90 BC in Bethlehem and AD 18 in Nazareth.

Though we have to piece together phrases and scenes from the gospels to create in our minds the person of Joseph, we know that he represents important qualities that support family – qualities that we all hope are emulated in all of our families today: humility, compassion, protection, respect, care, sacrifice, and love.

Archmere’s community is built on the strength of individual families over the years, as well as the charism of Saint Norbert. In a way, Norbert wanted to emulate the Holy Family as he conceived living a spiritual life in community in the 12th century. He gathered ordained, religious men and women, as well as lay men and women to live in community in Premontre, France in the late Middle Ages. His concept of one community of the faithful would not survive the ecclesiastical structure of the Church, which separately acknowledged the community of priests and brothers from the religious community of Norbertine nuns. Yet, in spirit and in charism, they were founded as one community, building on each other’s strengths and gifts, reflecting the dynamic of a biological family. Over the years, many Norbertine communities would flourish around the world, each a reflection of the people and culture that created it.

I have heard Archmere referred to as a “family” and, particularly, the Patio, as “a home,” originally built for the Raskob family of 13 children. I believe that a more accurate and enriching description of Archmere is a community of families, each contributing its own unique histories, talents, and contributions to strengthen the Archmere genealogical tree.

Figures from the 2002 U.S. Census indicate that only 7% of the population in the United States is part of “traditional” families, where the father works outside the home, and the mother runs the household with children living at home. Another 16% of the population is dual income parents with children, and 13% is dual income couples with no children. The remaining 64% of the population is in single parent households or other family configurations. Since 2002, I would imagine these figures have become even more pronounced in non-traditional family composition.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017, Archmere hosted a visit by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, along with Rev. Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. These men were appointed by Pope Francis on August 15, 2016, to, in the words of Pope Francis, “help families live out their vocation and mission in the Church and in today’s world.” Their work would be accomplished with study, research, and teaching in dialog with “scientific institutes and academic institutions, including relationships where there is an ecumenical or interreligious element, whether Christian or pertaining to other cultural or religious traditions. To bend down over the wounds of humanity in order to understand them, to care for them, and to heal them is the task of the Church that trusts in the light and the power of the risen Christ, that is able to deal with tension and conflict, as does a ‘field hospital,’ a Church that lives, preaches, and carries out its mission of salvation…”

We, at Archmere, are fortunate to have a faith tradition that holds up for us the Holy Family as an example of family life that represent important values for us to admire and adopt into our own life experiences. And we are blessed to have Pope Francis address the challenges of family life and provide for us an inviting and welcoming opportunity to talk about the challenges and opportunities in sustaining the nurturing and life-giving power of family life.

Advancing God’s Love

This is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Flowers, candy, cards, gifts, candlelight dinners, and marriage proposals are all associated with a holiday that has a history in both pagan and Christian traditions. The common thread in all of the debated origins of the feast is that the day is a celebration of “love.”

In a June 25, 2016 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Neel Burton writes about the seven types of love. Eros, best described as romantic love, is what we probably identify with Valentine’s Day. But then there is Philia, friendship, a person of goodwill. Storge is the familial love, like the love between parents and children. More broadly, Agape is love of humankind and all of creation in an altruistic sense. Ludus is described as uncommitted love, and focuses on enjoying other persons without demanding much from the relationships. Pragma is love of reason and the practical, enjoying another’s compatibility in living and working together. Finally, Philautia is love of self, which can have both positive (self-esteem) and negative (hubris) effects.

Dr. Burton explains that there is “porosity” between these seven kinds of love, and they may all coexist in various measures in us. A good friend (philia) may be one who is very easy to be with (ludus), because he or she is “self-sufficient.” And certainly married couples may first experience eros, which deepens with philia, storge, and pragma. Actually, elements of all of the types of love have room to coexist within us. And when we get it “right,” I believe the words of Saint John describe our reality, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (John 4:16-17)

A place like Archmere is built on a history of relationships. Over the years, many of those have grown and deepened, while some have been broken or rearranged. Clearly, the many aspects of love have been experienced and felt from all of the students and families whose lives have become intertwined because of Archmere. It is a place where God can be found, because of the love that is expressed in words and actions each day by members of the school community for each other.

So in considering Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate in the winter season that may bring post-Christmas and pre-Spring blues, let’s take the opportunity as we exchange cards, candy, hugs, and well wishes to be more conscious of all of our relationships every day, finding ways to advance God’s love in the world. It sounds so abstract, but it can be very real if we consider the many aspects of love as it manifests itself among us.

The Light of God’s Goodness

Unknown“Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as long as you look at it in an ordinary human way. But if you hold it up against the light of God’s goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant, and bright. And then you ask yourself in amazement: Is this really my own life I see before me?” These words of Albert Schweitzer describe well the transformational nature of the Archmere experience for our students. Combining a strong academic curriculum with an environment that is shaped by an intentional focus on spirituality creates opportunities for students to explore deeply the meaning of life events, which include challenges and triumphs.

There is a web site called “Graduation Wisdom” that lists top ranked graduation speeches, quotes, and idea suggestions for speeches. Just scrolling through the site, I found a number of short, pithy sayings that are all pieces of good advice to share with our Class of 2016 graduates. However, I believe that all the messages could be summed up in Schweitzer’s suggestion of allowing God’s goodness to be reflected through you.

I remember my graduation from Archmere, which took place 40 years ago on June 6, 1976. At that time, commencement exercises were held at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA, because we did not have a theatre and previous years’ graduations that were held on the back lawn of the Patio often had to be moved to a very warm, un-air conditioned field house due to the weather. It was especially memorable because my father, who died two weeks before my grade school graduation four years earlier, was committed to providing excellent educational opportunities for his sons. My mother, as a widow on a fixed income, made sure that I had the opportunity to attend Archmere and go onto college. Her life was a living example of so many “Graduation Wisdom” sayings, including “Step up when times are toughest”, “Find someone to help you paddle”, “Keep moving forward; know that life is not fair”, and “Never, ever give up!” But I believe that her life was a reflection of her faith and of God’s goodness.

So each year, as we hold graduation ceremonies, I think about all of the current graduates and the stories they could tell about their individual paths that led them to this milestone moment, one that they will not forget. I am sure they share similar stories of family sacrifices, overcoming obstacles, and feeling grateful to have had the opportunity to study and learn. Sometimes, during the ordinary days in between the celebratory ones, we tend to forget how blessed we are with the gifts and talents we are meant to develop and use for the benefit of others. We can forget our own potential, but through prayer and good works we rediscover the radiance and brightness of our lives. Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2016, and may the life journeys for our returning students and the members of the incoming freshman Class of 2020 be safe and productive ones through these summer days, until we begin together a new school year in August.